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April 18, 2003

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Communicating Europe

Claes de Vreese

Executive Summary
Democracy relies on communication between citizens and power holders. The EU suffers from a democratic deficit which is accentuated by a striking communication deficit. In its institutional reform process, the EU needs to take communication seriously – and not by developing communication plans that are self-congratulatory.
Media – and in particular television – are key resources for citizens across Europe when learning about the EU. Strikingly, however, we know hardly anything about how the EU is represented in broadcast news. Nonetheless, journalists are often blamed for contributing to cynicism about EU affairs.
This pamphlet draws on unique studies of media content and public opinion in several European countries. The distinguishing features of news coverage of Europe are that it is infrequent and faceless; but that it is high priority when it does appear, and is no more negative in tone than coverage of national politics.
The paper proposes a number of changes that the Convention should consider in making the European Union and its institutions more communicable to its citizens:
1. Redesign the institutions to take account of political communication and news framing. Useful frames include: the human aspect of news, a conflict-driven story, or an economic loss-or-gain story.
2. Design communication structures to link European level governance with the national systems of political communication. Especially in order to develop effective conflict-driven news, scrutiny in national parliaments has a strong communication potential.
3. Give the EU a ‘face’ by utilising the communicative potential of Commissioners more and by keeping the EU visible in other places than Brussels by continuing to have Council and other meetings held locally.

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